Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Leo Kerr, Mar 18, 2010.

  1. Leo Kerr

    Leo Kerr Screenwriter

    May 10, 1999
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    The Men Who Stare At Goats
    An Anchor Bay release of an Overture Films feature. The feature was released in November of 2009, starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, with some amazing bits from Stephen Lang. The screenplay is by Peter Straughan, based on Jon Ronson’s book, and is directed by Grant Heslov.

    The feature is 2.35:1, in the AVC codec, coded between (typically) about 25-30 megabits per second. The audio Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, and is accompanied by two stereo commentary tracks. Subtitles are English (SDH) and Spanish. The run-time is about 94 minutes, and has an assortment of trailers and logos that can be skipped with the “next chapter” button — repeatedly. Unfortunately after doing this, you drop to a black screen and, in my case, spend a long couple of seconds at black before the “loading disc” progress loop came up. The packaging itself is “mostly typical” Blu-Ray packaging, except on the interior left-face is a conventional DVD with the Digital Copy.

    Retail price for this Blu-Ray title is $39.98, and goes on-sale in the United States on March 23, 2010.

    The Program —
    There are two both humorous and scary moments that kind of set the tone for this film. First, as the feature opens, is a discreet warning title: more of this is true than you would believe. The second is an exchange describing about how the “Psychic Ops” unit came into being: the French media reporting that psychics attempted to contact the crew of the USS Nautilus while it was under the ice-cap in 1958.

    “It looks like they found out about our attempt to telepathically communicate with one of our nuclear subs, the Nautilus, while it was under the polar cap.”

    “What attempt?”

    “There was no attempt. Seems the story was a French hoax, but the Russians think the story about the story being a French hoax is just a story, sir.”

    “So they’ve started doing psi research because they thought we were doing psi research when in fact we aren’t doing psi research?”

    “Yes, sir, but now that they are doing psi research, we’re going to have to do psi research, sir. We can’t afford to have the Russians leading the field in the paranormal.”

    This sort of circular panic is, of course, completely believable.

    Allegedly, with the newly elected President Reagan being both a fan of Star Wars (the movie) and of psychics (or at least, Nancy,) the new plan was to create this unit of “Jedi Warriors.” I suspect this is just a tiny part of the reason why Ewan “Obi Wan” McGregor was cast as the reporter ‘discovering’ this story for us.

    The story takes place as a part of reporter Bob Wilton (McGregor) trying to “find himself” and the next big story in Iraq. He comes across Lyn Cassady (Clooney) who was one of the stars of Colonel Django’s (Bridges) New Earth Army, as Cassady is traveling to find the ‘reactivated’ unit in the Iraqi desert. As they travel, they experience various adventures, interspersed with a variety of background episodes, related by Cassady, of the training and actions of Django’s special ops unit.

    The film’s story evolves into something like a somewhat medieval romance (in modern terms, more like The Lord of the Rings as opposed to, say, something from Harlequin Press,) with the old master’s lessons framed by the modern-era journey, and enjoys quite a lot of the other archetypes of the romantic literary form. (Reference )

    The film is liberally sprinkled with humor in several forms: out-and-out physical comedy, including the ever-popular pratfall; to people saying things that after a stunned moment, the viewer silently says, “I don’t believe he just said (or did) that!” before the laughter breaks out at the sheer mindboggling nature of whatever it was. Still, much of the humor also falls into the somewhat dangerous realm of black, dry, or cynical humor, and may not be suitable for all audiences. I suppose that’s okay, too, given that the feature itself is rated R.

    The Picture — ½
    The picture is very clean, sharp, and detailed. For the most part, the imagery is realistic and natural-looking. Colors were clean and covered a palette from gray to saturated, with a generally good range of tones from black to white. While clean, there were signs of grain and noise to indicate that it had not been excessively ‘scrubbed,’ nor were there any noticeable signs of edge-enhancement or other forms of sharpening.

    The biggest thing I had about the picture quality, and this may have been true to the final film, was there were a few high-contrast scenes that were predominantly dark and back-lit. Some other scenes also seemed — unexpectedly contrasty. There was something about these examples that struck me as unnatural, standing out quite a bit from the rest of the film.

    In general, I would not have a problem with using this film to show off some of the detail and potential of BluRay and HDTV.

    The Sound — ½
    The sound is suitably low-key. Considering it is a war-film, it is not an action film, so much of the soundtrack is fairly naturalistic to minimalistic. The musical soundtrack, of quite a variety of music from a variety of sources is important, but not distracting. This is not a film soundtrack for showing off an earth-shaking system, and large parts of the dialog is plainly and intentionally recorded in the voice-over booth (mostly Bob’s ‘story’ being told to us.) It does not go to a lot of effort to call attention to itself, but it works.

    The Extras
    Included on the disc are a variety of extras, all of which are in HD.
    • Goats Declassified: The Real Men of the First Earth Battalion — 12½ minutes, interviews mostly with members of the New Earth Army.
    • Project “Hollywood”: A Classified Report from the Set — 7½ minutes, “making the film” reel of production and interviews.
    • Audio commentary by the director of the film — discussion includes notes and trivia about some of the actors or other talent, what was taken out of the shot, what was added to the shot. Quite a lot of variety to the subject-matter, and not much dead-air.
    • Audio commentary by the author of the book — a little less ‘dynamic’ than the director’s commentary, but provides more insight on what was real, what it meant, or who the real people were who became one of the characters in the film, or some of the deeper side of the whole ‘staring at goats’ thing.
    • Character Bios — 4¾ minutes, a sequence of TV shorts, sort of ‘mini-trailers’ focusing on one or two of the characters.
    • Deleted Scenes — about three sequences, each with surrounding context. Most are just longer versions than that shown in the main feature.
    • Theatrical Trailer — 2½ minutes.
    • And, of course, the Digital Copy of the film.
    In The End —

    What does one say about a film like this?

    In short, I suppose I must admit that I rather enjoyed the film. While so much of it is distinctly odd, it maintains a level of plausibility to reinforce the initial warning about truth — how much is true?

    To quote the introduction from The Three Faces of Eve, “this is a true story. How often have you seen that statement at the beginning of a picture? It sometimes means that there was a man named Napoleon, but that any similarity between what he did in life and what he’s going to do in this movie is strictly miraculous.” The Men Who Stare At Goats is something that is easy to believe, whilst wishing none of it was true. Or the other way around.

    Apart from some slowness of the interface, and some dead-time after the opening warnings and advertisements, the presentation is perfectly reasonable. Apart from the oddly contrasty scenes here and there, I have no complaints about the picture or sound quality of the presentation, and generally enjoyed myself.
  2. Adam Gregorich


    Nov 20, 1999
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    The Other Washington
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    Thanks for the review Leo. I wanted to see this in the theater and never make it. I'm glad its on the way. I'll have to check it out.

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